Cowlitz Tribe Officials Raise Questions over Deal Aimed at Keeping Competition Away from ilani Casino Resort

For more than half a decade, the Cowlitz Indian Tribe has transferred millions to a consulting firm in Portland and its owners as payments in return for protecting its ilani Casino Resort from undesirable competition, and in particular from other Native American tribes willing to expand their gambling operations in the state of Oregon.

When it started operation in 2017, ilani turned into the nearest casino to Portland. According to estimates, it currently generates annual revenue of no less than $300 million.

Gaming operations are critical to the financial state of Northwest tribal economies, not to mention the fact that in this case access to the lucrative gambling market in the population center of Oregon was put at stake.

Recently, the leaders of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe turned to the Portland consulting firm R&S Strategy Group and entered into a contract that cost them between $30,000 and $50,000 every month. As some documents and records of tribal meetings revealed, the Native American tribe aimed at eliminating rivals, in particular, the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians and the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon.

Gambling revenue has been extremely important for some tribes because they were used to provide funding for various social programs.

Cowlitz Indian Tribe’s Leader Intertwined His Personal Interests with the Ones of the Casino Resort, Reports Say

The father of the late tribal leader David Barnett was the one who led the Cowlitz Indian Tribe to securing federal recognition in the US. Barnett, in his turn, initiated a series of agreements between the tribe and the aforementioned consulting firm, or at times with its owners. As mentioned above, documents from the arrangement say that the ilani Casino Resort is set to be protected from competitors but they do not specify how.

The abovementioned agreement included a clause under which the potential casino developers were not allowed to move forward with a private casino that would compete with the ilani Casino Resort. In addition, the Cowlitz tribe would have the option to manage a casino if such is developed in the region.

Reportedly, Mr. Barnett was willing to expand the gambling operations of the Cowlitz tribe into Oregon, where the Native American tribe would have been the majority owner of the establishment. As revealed by one of the consultant firm’s owners, the agreements with the Indian tribe were reviewed and approved by outside law firms.

The Cowlitz tribe’s leader put a lot of effort into advancing the Cowlitz’s gaming interests. However, according to some attorneys that the Native American nation hired, the chairman’s personal interests were too closely connected to the ones of the tribe, not to mention that Mr. Barnett was blamed for promoting a culture of fear within the tribe’s members by threatening them with banishment, violence and lawsuits.

According to tribal records, Cowlitz leaders and their attorneys have privately raised some questions regarding the aforementioned deal, with some of them asking why the tribe was making such massive payments for the service and what it was really getting in return. Cowlitz officials have refused to comment on the matter but revealed that the tribe had cut ties with the owners of the consulting firm.